farm equipment in Ulysses
Image by Sandy Repp

Agricultural District Inclusion applications open from Feb 1-March 2.

Agricultural District Changes

Tompkins County has two large Agriculture Districts, one on each side of the county. 

The purpose of Agricultural Districts is to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. The program is a combination of incentives and protections to forestall conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. These benefits are: preferential real property tax treatment (agricultural assessment and special benefit assessment) and protections against unreasonably restrictive local laws, government-funded acquisition, construction projects, and private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, on behalf of the County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board and County Legislature, facilitates the review of Agricultural Districts. These comprehensive reviews take place every 8 years for each district. District 1 was last reviewed in 2020.  District 2 was last reviewed 2016. In addition, every year from February 1 - March 2 we review specific requests from property owners to be added to the Agricultural District. All requests for inclusion must be received by March 2nd.

If too late to mail, you may drop the form off at CCE-Tompkins, 615 Willow Avenue, Ithaca NY 14850 (our front desk is staffed 8:30-3pm except Fridays, call 607-272-2292 to confirm someone's there) but you may also scan the form or take a photo with your phone and email it to Mila Fournier at ymf5@cornell.edu then pop the original into the mail.

Yearly Inclusion Process

If your property is used for agricultural activity, either by you or by a tenant, and you would like to have your property considered for inclusion in the Agricultural District, the first step is to complete an "Inclusion Request Form" which is available here.

If you have questions about whether your property is in an Agricultural District, please reach out to your municipality's Planning Department or to the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability.

Timeline

Inclusion in the Ag District is a long process that includes Legislative approval.

  1. From February 1 until March 2nd of each year we accept applications for inclusion in the Ag District. The time period is defined by the County Legislature.
  2. During the month of February, as applications come in, we gather additional materials needed for evaluation of inclusion in the Ag District. This can include maps, soils data, follow-up farming operation information requested of the property owner, and any other info needed by the Board. During that period we also reach out to municipalities to alert them to the request and to solicit any feedback the municipality might have about that property's status in the Ag District.
  3. Either during the February Ag & Farmland Protection Board (AFPB) meeting or at a special session of the AFPB convening within a week of March 2nd, the Board reviews all the applications together for appropriateness of inclusion in the Ag District. Some may be recommended for inclusion, others not.
  4. Based on the results of AFPB recommendations, the County Office of Planning & Sustainability assembles the required State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) documentation.
  5. By March 12th all recommendations, documentation, and SEQR forms are forwarded to the legislative committee in charge of the review. In Tompkins County that is the Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality (PEEQ) Committee.
  6. The PEEQ Committee meets during the last week of March, reviews the AFPB recommendations, and recommends the changes to the Ag District to the Legislature as they deem appropriate.
  7. The County Legislature meets during the first week of April to vote on changes to the Ag District. 
  8. The results of that vote are forwarded to the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets for final review. Approved properties are officially added to the Ag District about 30 days later.

The PEEQ and County Legislature meetings are public meetings and anyone can attend. The meetings are held over Zoom. Please see the County website (https://www2.tompkinscountyny.gov/legislature) if you would like to view meeting agendas or minutes and to learn how to attend.

8-Year Review Process

The Comprehensive Review process has similar legislative steps as the yearly process but starts 300 days ahead of the district anniversary date. The first step in the 300-day review period is public notice by the legislature that the district is being reviewed (within 30 days of state notice). Each municipality within the district is notified of the district review which is followed by CCE staff work closely with farmers and municipal planning staff to review district boundaries and the level of agricultural activity in the Ag District. During the 8-year review, parcels may be removed from or added to the district. The process involves months of public meetings as well as reaching out to farmers and to property-owners whose land is used for any agricultural purpose. Sometimes it involves visits to properties and discussions with planning staff about short- and long-term comprehensive plans for their municipalities.

Sometimes land is removed from the Ag District if it is clearly not being used for agricultural purposes, stops being appropriate for agricultural uses, or if comprehensive plans call for a different kind of land use. During the whole 300-day period, there is ample time for public involvement. Changes, both removals and additions, are reviewed and approved by the County Agriculture & Farmland Protection Board, and these are presented to the PEEQ and County Legislature. The County Legislature must hold a public hearing between 120 and 180 days of the Ag District anniversary to gather any further input on additions and removals. Final boundaries are approved by the County Legislature, after which all documents including SEQR review, are submitted to the NYS Dept of Agriculture for final approval of district changes and continuation by the NYS Ag Commissioner.   

Tax Implications

One benefit of the NYS Ag District Law is an agricultural assessment of farmland which generally lowers overall property taxes. To qualify for ag assessment, farmers must generate $10,000 in ag product sales, own at least 7 acres, and have been farming for 2 years. Additionally, landowners who rent to qualifying farmers and have a 5-year lease agreement with the farmer can receive the same exemption on rented land. More details on qualifications can be found at: https://www.tax.ny.gov/research/property/assess/valuation/ag_overview.htm

If you qualify for an agricultural assessment, the first step is to contact the Soil and Water District to complete a Soils Group Worksheet – contact SWCD at 607-257-2340 in January and February for an appointment to complete this process; once done, this is no longer a necessary step unless you buy more land to farm.

Once the Soils Worksheet is completed, bring it along with proof of farm sales (Schedule F), or if you are a landowner, a copy of a 5-year lease, to the County Assessment office. Call them at (607) 274-5517, or visit https://www2.tompkinscountyny.gov/assessment. They will direct you to fill out Agricultural Land Exemption Form RP-305. You do not need to be in the Agricultural District to claim that exemption.

To receive an agricultural exemption, you MUST apply every year by March 1 to ensure you benefit from lower property taxes. The County Assessment office sends you a reminder and the form to complete. All you have to do is send it in to the office on time (no later than April 1, in Tompkins County).   

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about this NY State program and the benefits conferred to Agricultural District properties, please visit the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets Ag Districting page at https://agriculture.ny.gov/land-and-water/agricultural-districts

Contact

Mila Fournier
Horticulture Program Leader
ymf5@cornell.edu
(607) 272-2292 ext. 194

Last updated March 2, 2021